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Inoperable Handguns: Are They 'Deadly Weapons?'

Does an inoperable handgun constitute a 'deadly weapon' under Ohio's carrying a concealed weapon statute? The Ohio Supreme Court doesn't think so. In re J.T., the Ohio Supreme Court held an inoperable pistol that is not used as a bludgeon is not a 'deadly weapon' for purposes of R.C. 2923.12, which prohibits carrying a concealed weapon.

In this case, a Cincinnati Police Officer was dispatched to an area where a group of juveniles had gathered. The officer approached the group and stopped two males wearing dark hoodies, one of whom the officer noticed had a large bulge around his waist. The officer patted him down and felt a gun tucked into the juvenile's waistband. The juvenile then admitted he had a gun and the officer reached into his waistband, pulling out a loaded Hi-Point 9 mm handgun. The juvenile was charged with carrying a concealed deadly weapon on his person.

Although evidence at trial showed the gun was inoperable at the time, the magistrate found the juvenile guilty. The magistrate stated, "[e]vidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant possessed the firearm in his waistband" and that "[t]he weapon was inoperable but was still capable of being used as a deadly weapon." The juvenile appealed the magistrate's decision to the juvenile court judge, who upheld the decision. The juvenile then appealed the decision to the First District Court of Appeals, which upheld the court's decision. The First District Court of Appeals held, "[i]t is beyond cavil that the pistol had been designed as a weapon. And the arresting police officer testified that the pistol was a heavy, blunt object-evidence that the pistol was capable of inflicting deadly harm."

The Ohio Supreme Court accepted the juvenile's appeal. In its September 10, 2015 decision, the high Court criticized the First District's decision as "skewed logic." The Court stated, "[t]he fact that the gun was inoperable means that it had lost the sole function for which it had been designed. It was no longer a deadly weapon unless there was some evidence presented that it was used as a bludgeon or otherwise used, possessed, or carried as a weapon. There was not." The Court continued, explaining an inoperable gun is no more of a deadly weapon than a laptop computer. It further emphasized that had the legislature intended inoperable handguns to constitute deadly weapon under the statute, it would have done so. However, it did not and "[t]he fact that it chose not to include such language should not be ignored." 

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